Each year as the Jewish holiday season arrives, the issue of food insecurity (the reliable access to a sufficient quality of affordable, nutritious food) rises to the top of the public agenda.
In Israel, the National Insurance Institute estimates that some 320,000 households, comprising some 1 million people, suffer from food insecurity.
The issue is, however, a global phenomenon affecting nearly one billion people worldwide.
“The world produces enough food to feed the entire human population, but it’s estimated that around 30-40 percent of food is thrown out or wasted,” Jeff Klein, president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) recently told The Jerusalem Post.
Klein arrived in Israel ahead of the holidays to deliver a keynote speech at Leket Israel – the National Food Bank session on food waste at the annual conference for the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
According to Klein, hunger affects more than 840 million people globally and food waste is a problem affecting nearly every country across the globe.
Each year approximately one third of food produced is never consumed – approximately 1.3 billion tons of food lost each year.
This occurs, he explains, due to a number of factors, including a failure to harvest, products which have expired or ruined, overproduction, damaged goods, or simple marketing and business decisions leading to food waste.
GFN, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, aims to address food waste by collaborating to develop food banks internationally in communities where they are needed and by supporting food banks where they exist.
GFN currently supports food banks in more than 30 countries worldwide, covering over one-third of the world’s undernourished population.
The food banking system explains Klein, acquires donated and surplus food, which would otherwise be wasted, and delivers it to the needy and undernourished. The food banks receive the food from farms, hotels, manufacturers, distributors, retail stores, consumers and other sources, and deliver it to the needy through a network of community agencies, all while engaging the various sectors of society (government, business, and nonprofit) in the process.
Last year GFN food banks distributed some 500 million kg. of food through more than 25,000 organizations worldwide in countries such as Israel, Turkey, UK, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong and South Korea.
“The idea is to provide food to people in need, but at the same time there is growing global awareness about nutrition,” explained Klein. “In certain countries, a hungry child may only get his carbs for a whole week from a bottle of Coke, so you have to find a balance between nutritious foods and not letting people go hungry.”
According to Klein, Israel has a distinct advantage with regards to the donation of nutritious foods.
“In Israel there is awareness about nutrition, it’s in the culture and in the food, and you are a country that grows a lot of fruits and vegetables which are donated to the needy through Leket Israel,” he said.
Project Leket (one of numerous projects operated by the food bank), is a gleaning initiative that sends thousands of volunteers and dozens of paid pickers into fields and orchards to gather produce donated, or that farmers leave unpicked.
Through this unique program, Leket Israel rescues some 10,000 tons of nutritious food per year and distributes it to the needy through its network of some 180 nonprofit agencies and with the help of over 50,000 volunteers.
In addition, Leket Israel runs logistics centers in Ra’anana and Nesher and operates trucks delivering fresh produce from the gleaning program to the needy throughout the country.
“This is an extraordinary endeavor, organizing tens of thousands of volunteers and operating trucks and farms, it really is incredible,” said Klein, “Though there are still a lot of opportunities out there to be taken advantage of.”
According to Klein there are opportunities for what he calls “social entrepreneurs” or young people who are ambitious and eager to contribute to society and find new and creative solutions for addressing food waste.
“We are seeing more and more social entrepreneurs worldwide who express an interest and a desire to give back and find creative solutions to addressing food waste problems,” he said.
“And we are also seeing a global trend of increased awareness and a knowledge of what hunger is.”
In addition, Klein outlined a number of measures the government can take to reduce waste and address food insecurity.
The first and most basic action government can take to address food waste is raising awareness of the issue, especially among children and in schools, explained Klein.
Furthermore, he said governments should expand the Good Samaritan protection law, which would protect food donors from liability.
“If a donor donates food that is categorized as ‘fit for human consumption,’ but someone later gets sick from it, the donor should be protected from liability.
This will provide an incentive for others to donate, but unfortunately currently only several countries provide this protection,” he explained.
Additional steps governments can take are to provide supportive tax policies and offer deductions for donated food and charitable contributions to nonprofits.
“Everyone can do their part, and the purpose of food banks is to bridge the gap between all sectors of society and help those in need,” said Klein.